Winter is coming, and Hilliard restaurants are preparing for colder weather
Customers at many restaurants have enjoyed outdoor patios even through early November, when central Ohio enjoyed daytime temperatures in the high 70s.
But winter is coming, and Hilliard's restaurant operators must determine how to maintain social distancing when outdoor dining might not be an option during the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic – and an increasing number of COVID-19 cases makes continued indoor dining uncertain on every level.
Homa Lily Moheimani, manager of media and communications for the Ohio Restaurant Association, said the ORA fears that many Ohio restaurants, typically operating on small profit margins in ordinary times, might not survive the winter.
“Those that already had a good carryout business will fare better, but others facing capacity restrictions and without outdoor options might not," she said.
According a survey conducted by the ORA, restaurants are tackling the challenge in several ways.
According to the ORA's biweekly survey that was conducted Oct. 23 to 26, 60% of respondents indicated they lacked outdoor space of any kind and of those who had outdoor seating, 34% of respondents plan to use portable heaters to encourage outdoor dining and 16% plan to use tents.
In Old Hilliard, many restaurants already have lost some outdoor seating when the city’s Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area season ended.
On Sept. 28, the city removed a dozen tables on the section of Center Street between Main and Wayne streets that was closed to vehicles in the summer and reopened Oct. 30. Those tables had provided additional seating for patrons of the Center Street Market and restaurants in Old Hilliard.
The restaurants at the Center Street Market, anchored by the Crooked Can Brewing Co. and including Meatball Mafia, Dumplings of Fury and the Cheesecake Girl, among several others, are facing the challenge of keeping customers comfortable during the winter.
Rob Fry, one of four partners who opened Center Street Market earlier this year, said a 20-by-60-foot tent was placed on the patio in mid-October in anticipation of the first Ohio State University Buckeyes football game.
A permit was required for the tent, he said.
“Our inside seating won’t be enough this winter,” Fry said. “It hasn’t been used much (as if early November), but we think it will be useful in the winter.”
The 1,200-square-foot tent abuts the indoor area of the market, and with the bay doors open, patrons may walk between the tent and the indoor dining area where the restaurants are located, Fry said.
The tent has 12 tables and two televisions, as well as electricity and heating, Fry said.
“We will keep it out until it isn’t being used anymore,” he said.
Although the tent at the Center Street Market is a first, another restaurant has used tents during the winter for years.
Nasty’s Sports Bar & Restaurant, 4561 Scioto Darby Road, opened in 2012.
“We’ve had a heated, enclosed patio during the winter for the past six years,” said Frank Profeta, who with his partner, John Votino, own Nasty’s.
“What’s really killing us is closing at 10 p.m.," said Profeta, referencing an order announced by Gov. Mike DeWine on July 31 that stipulates bars must stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. and close at 11 p.m. to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
In an address to the state Nov. 11, DeWine also hinted that indoor dining again could be limited like during the early days of the pandemic if the state's number of daily COVID-19 cases did not decrease.
Meanwhile, Scott Boles, owner of Yabo's Tacos, 5242 Cemetery Road, said he is deciding if he would enclose his patio or take other measures.
Because he leases the site from the owners of the Landmark Lofts mixed-use development, any modifications would require the property owner’s assent, Boles said.
He also operates Yabo's Tacos restaurants in Powell and Westerville.
The patio at the Powell location has been enclosed during the winter for several years, and Boles will enclose the patio at Westerville for the first time this winter, he said.
“I wish I had a better solution (for Hilliard), but I never wrote a business plan for a pandemic,” Boles said.
But the restaurant continues to serve customers.
“Our takeout is keeping us alive," Boles said.
Libby Gierach, president and CEO of the Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is doing all it can to provide support.
"We are committed to helping our restaurants survive during this time by providing them resources for finding tents and heaters so that they can continue to have outdoor seating for their patrons," she said. "We have been providing them information on how to get grants provided by the city of Hilliard, as well as the state of Ohio, to help sustain them."